|This was a very exciting time to be visiting the SNO lab because they had just made a very important discovery about the nature of neutrinos. Neutrinos come in three flavours: the muon, tau, and electron neutrino. Up until this time, scientists had not been able to observe all three types adequately, but now they were able to ascertain that neutrinos, in fact, flip between the three types as they travel. This is called mixing or oscillation. According to quantum theory, objects that oscillate must have mass. Therefore neutrinos have mass. This discovery has all kinds of implications including the possibility that neutrinos might account for some of the missing dark matter in the universe.
While we were in the lab, I was lucky enough to speak with Dr. Richard Helmer who was visiting from the west coast. He was able to give me some good information about the fundamentals of quantum physics, as well as the implications of this discovery, and some of the indications of where to go next with the further investigations into the mass of the neutrino. See a transcript of our conversation here.
We were also lucky enough to meet physicist Dr. Peter Doe, who was visiting from the University of Washington. He treated us to a reading of John Updike's poem about neutrinos, "Cosmic Gall." For a quicktime video of Peter Doe's reading, click here.
The neutrino is a pernicious concept. Humans normally require narrative and relationship in order to function, yet here we are faced with a sublime indifference. Not only that but particles are strange, and neutrinos are not the strangest. About 100 years ago Einstein figured out a bunch of really unsettling things about light waves acting like particles. Now we're saddled with a whole pile of elementary particles, about 25 of them, which are very weirdly behaving little things. There's neutrinos that just pass through everything in the universe, la-la-la, through your head, through your cat, through the planet and on to the next one. Fine, we've digested that one. But then there's the Force Carrying particles.